Throwing the bottle away

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At some point in every infants life, they toss their bottle.  Of course, what do parents first do?  They pick it up and give it right back; never asking why they are throwing it away.  Eventually, it must occur to parents (I’m not yet a parent, so I’m sure there’s still much for me to learn) it’s time to take the bottle away.  Later in my life, I had to make a similar decision without the assistance of my parents this time.  I was finding that medication was starting to alter my behaviours in ways that were actually hindering my abilities.  I was less ambitious, socially exciting, and active.  I was finding that some days I just did not want to take my meds and some days I needed them to study for a test.  I knew I couldn’t keep up a charade of randomly taking my meds; that;s how I start to forget to take them.  If I forget to take them when I need them, it could really mess my day up as I’ve become, in a way, dependent of their effects to function.

I was 22 when I first started this dialogue with myself.  It had been 3 years since my drug concerns; I’ve molded modeled my study habits to complete high school, and my first year of studies (away from home.)  I dealt with, successfully, moving through 3 different schools; high school, university of Guelph, and the university of Windsor.  It was really the University of Windsor part that told me I was ready to start moving on from meds.  I successfully completed my first year of Drama in Education, but found that I wasn’t ready for the workload.  I still wanted to have fun, to party, and I wasn’t ready to do the amount of work required for this program (the first year introduction class greeted me with a 100-page final paper.)  I took a look forward in my life and decided I wanted to study an easier degree and then return to finish my program.  I move to London and attended University of Western Ontario for a B.A. in sociology.  It was a bold move, but I wouldn’t be where I am without it.  Had I not gone, I likely would have ended up dropping out of school and failing to move on in life.

While in London, I had a very easy schedule, academically.  I usually took only 4 courses, and I was really strong in social sciences, thus the classes came naturally to me.  The lighter class schedule allowed me to focus my attention to other components of my life, starting with accommodations at university.  It took me good couple of weeks to track down the right people and to advocate for myself, but eventually I was greeted with great accommodations.  The government (through the bursary for students with a disability) purchased me a new laptop, the university supplied me with extra exam writing time when I needed it, and the university also advocated for me when I needed it.  The last part was the bridge I needed.  They university supplied a letter explaining that I was granted certain accommodations, one was that any overheads and powerpoints were to be provided to me on paper or electronically so that I did not have to copy.  I was also allowed to voice record any lectures, a tool that I never found useful other than in one particular class.  My Survey of Sociological Theories class had a really good prof teaching it, but he was also very reluctant to support me.  It didn’t seem that he just didn’t believe that I needed it, but that he had his own agenda that I was disrupting.  He loved overheads, and I hated them.  I asked for paper copies, and I asked to record his class.  He was shocked-white.  He told me he would get back to me, and I gave him my letter.  The next class he came back and offered me the paper copies of his notes, in exchange I don’t record the class–now in any other situation, a student shouldn’t take a compromise if they need their accommodations, but I didn’t need the voice recording.  I was an easy victory as I got the notes I needed and aced the course.  I even received my first A on an essay, ever!

Learning to advocate and take responsibility for my own education was the first step to weaning myself off of the bottle.  The next part was learning to organize my time.  These steps were unknown to me at the time, but thankfully, life kind of just challenged me the way I needed to be challenged.  I quickly found that OSAP would not be enough for me to live in London and was afraid of having to quit school halfway-through.  I was not ready to do this, so I took a job as a part-time security officer.  I worked many concerts back stage, including ZZ top and Meat Loaf, but most often would have to work midnights.  The schedule was non-existent.  I would often be called the day of and would have to arrange transportation to and from work.  It was a challenge for sure.  It started to take a toll at school as I would skip classes and avoid studying.  When my school started to suffer, I realized that this was a problem.  I started to look for a job with more stability, and stumbled across a tech support job.  One of my best friends (quick fact: 5 out of 7 people in the groom’s party at my wedding had AD(H)D,) introduced me to the job.  It was great because I was given my schedule in advance, and later was offered a standard 8p-2a M-F schedule.  The job gave me a chance to study and complete assignments during downtime, and gave me the stability I needed.  This meant I was rarely home.  I would have classes from 8a-3p, come home, nap, cook, and go to work.

I learned quickly how to save time.  I would cook big dinners on Sundays and Wednesdays which were my easy schedule days, and cook enough for 10 people.  The leftovers were my meals for the rest of the week.  I would do grocery shopping on my way home from school at lunch on Tuesdays.  On Fridays, I would do laundry as I only had one class.  As these habits started to form, I realized that I was at my best when the basic, mundane parts of my life were habits.  Habits quickly became routines and required very little thought.  By not having to think, my mind was freed to focus on other things in my life.

I found that when I followed my routines, I was doing really well in school and didn’t require my meds.  My anxiety levels were lowered, my attention was easier to control, and I was happier.  I quickly learned, however, that when these routines became disrupted, my anxiety levels were through the roof.  I still am working on the anxiety part today; but I realized that this was who I was.  I looked back at my childhood and saw that I was at my best when I was busy with routines.  

I started to form routines everywhere in my life.  When I wake up in the morning, I would eat breakfast, watch the same morning show, then shower, get dressed, and brush my teeth.  It sounds simple, nothing anyone else doesn’t do, but its the days when I’m out of toothpaste, or my show isn’t on that dictates the importance of order.  If I finished breakfast and the shower was being used, I would fall apart.  I wouldn’t know what to do, and rather than brush my teeth, I would just sit and watch more TV until the shower was free.  I had to keep my schedule.  If I ran out of toothpaste and had to go to the store, I would be late or miss school.  I could not adapt.

Finding success without my meds was a combination of understanding how I function best, and creating routines that plays to my strengths.  Even when I selected my courses, I knew that I did not like to do repetitive work like in math and science, thus I steered clear of those subjects as much as possible.  I knew I loved leadership roles, so I would always join weaker groups.  I knew I was a social learner, so I was the first to volunteer to present (it got me out of the ugly written work.)

It didn’t happen over night, but I kept the med bottle full, and ready, for over 3 years.  When there was a major test, when my day was thrown out of schedule, I would take my meds.  I eventually learned my own coping strategies to deal with my anxiety.  Even to this day, I’m still learning how to express why I get irritable with somethings.  Recently, I learned why I hate shopping with my wife so much.  I was getting almost claustrophobic in stores waiting for her to pick out a pair of shoes.  It was my anxiety and loss of control.  My wife and I work our best to solve these issues; sometimes its as easy as bringing my tablet along to play games on.  It’s going to be a life long process, but every day I’m getting better at it.  I haven’t taken my meds for 8 years now.  This November, I successfully finished a long term assignment and coached cross country at one school, coached basketball at another school, and tutored 3 different students.  I think I’m finding my own success without my meds.

To medicate, or not to medicate…

Many parents of children with AD(H)D have come across this question.  There seems to be a mix of research and myths that surround this issue that often make this choice very difficult to make.  My mother was a nurse in Detroit, and thus had access to multiple doctor opinions.  Those opinions, however, were limited in their usefulness as each situation, each child, each family, is different.

My childhood had a resume of drugs that I was taking (and not taking) that resembled a purchase order from a small pharmacy: Ritalin, Dexedrine, Aderall, and Concerta.  Each coming in different release times, dosages, and form.  The controlled substances had many side effects, some listed, some unlisted.  The listed side effects were pretty standard: loss of appetite, mood swings, loss of sleep, and anxiety.  The ones that were never mentioned ended up being the most challenging to me and my family.

I can remember the first time I was called down to the office.  The secretary paged my class and asked me to come down to the office.  I got to the office, took my (at the time we were flopping between Ritalin and Dexedrine, but I’m not sure which one I started with) medication and returned to class.  Of course, as any teacher and student would tell you, the first thing my peers would do is ask me why I was called down to the office.  I was in grade 4, I don’t even remember what made up answer I gave them; I knew I didn’t want people to know I was “disabled” (back in the early 90s, this was how I was labelled.)

I quickly told my parents how uncomfortable I was with being paged down.  I told them that I felt embarrassed and didn’t like having to answer those same questions every day.  A solution was presented; I would simply go down to the office under my own power as soon as lunch started.  We didn’t know this at the time, but we now know that I have a memory disability as well.  We did know, however, that I was a grade 4 student with AD(H)D.  It was very easy for me to get distracted with something else, or to simply forget to go down –I was 9.  So obviously, my parents and teachers got upset with me.  I once read a journal article that explained how AD(H)D did not cause stressed relationships and interactions at home and school, but provided an opportunity for a catalyst for a negative situation.  Stress at home is caused mainly by how people chose to react to this catalyst, and this was a perfect example.  Looking back now, we can see that we needed a better solution then to rely on they child to make sure to take their stay-focused-medication.

Another catalyst came up when my parents found out that I was not eating my lunch.  I ate huge breakfasts prior to taking my medication, and huge dinners when my medication was wearing off.  We never did find a working solution to that, I just learned to hate lunch all throughout school.

Medication was always a hot topic at my house.  I was on one med, my other brother was on a different dose, and later, my youngest brother would also be on it.  It was another negative catalyst that my parents did eventually figure out, but it took time.  It was one of those side effects that don’t appear on a bottle, but definitely should.  “CAUTION, MAY CAUSE PARENTS TO USE MEDICATION AS A CRUTCH, BAND AID, AND FIX-ALL-DUCT-TAPE.”

Yes, my parents would do just that.  If I forgot my books at school, they would ask: “did you take your medication today?”  It was the go to question for everything I did wrong.  As an adult, I now understand why they were asking, however, as a child, it made me mad and made me feel that my parents were trying to drug me to solve their parenting problems, rather than to address the problems themselves.  I started to rebel against medication, refusing to take it, and sometimes cheeking my meds until I could spit them out.  My parents would find them in the garbage and were now having to deal with accessible meds to an infant (my younger sister.)  This was probably the biggest negative catalyst, and it took my parents years to figure out how to address it.

As I grew older, more mature, and switched to a less obsolete medication, I started to take my meds more often.  Sometimes, a little too often.  I started to get into drugs when I was in high school, but at the same time, I started to compete in swimming meets.  I still to this day, have no clue what made me initially start this, but I did, nonetheless, start to take 2 to 4 times my dose.  I found that with higher doses, my mind became more alert, my muscles became quicker, and I had much more energy.  I would dose myself an hour before a swim meet, looking for a little bit of an edge.  It was wrong, it was dangerous, and worst of all, no one knew.

Medication for AD(H)D is a big choice.  You are dealing with a drug that is a controlled substance, that can be sold on the street, and that has many side effects.  From my experience I believe that the biggest question is not whether or not the medication will negatively affect your child, but rather how ready are you to help your child to use this medication as an aid.  After all, medication is not a solution, but merely another strategy to help your child adjust positively to having AD(H)D.  Can you think “big picture?”  Will your child take this medication for the rest of their life, or do you have an end game?